Pinot noir


Generally, my preference in Champagne is for steely elegance, but one cannot ignore the other styles, so when an example like the Möet & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut 2004 comes along, I’m happy to acquiesce to its blandishments. This venerable house has released a vintage Champagne only 70 times since its first vintage production was issued in 1842 — the house was founded in 1743 — meaning that between then and now, some 100 harvests have occurred that have not seen a vintage release. The assemblage for 2004, chosen by chief winemaker Benoit Gouez, is 38 percent chardonnay, 33 percent pinot noir and 29 percent pinot meunier; the wine aged in cellar seven years before being disgorged in 2012. (“Disgorged,” which unfortunately sounds like what one does on bended knees after a night of heavy drinking, means the process by which the remnants of yeast cells and other detritus left in the bottle after the second fermentation are quickly popped out and the Champagne is given its final cork and capsule.)

The color of the Möet & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut 2004 is pale greenie-gold, and the bubbles, well the bubbles are absolutely mesmerizing; torrents, streams, twirling glinting silver-gold fireworks erupt toward the slightly bronzy-tarnished surface, breaking in a crisp murmur. The bouquet manages to convey an impression both Spring-like in its fresh, brisk floral character and autumnal in its damp, foresty, slightly peat-like resiny nature. Of course there are notes of roasted lemon and pear, hints of camellia and acacia, touches of smoke and lightly buttered and toasted brioche, but the deeper dimension, and the one that compels an almost visceral response, is an evocative savory and saline quality that smacks of spicy, fleshy umami. This Champagne is dense and chewy, scintillating with bright acidity and limestone elements, supple and subtle in texture and almost delicate in its unfolding of lemon curd, lime peel, clove and quince flavors. The finish is long, packed with minerals, invigorating and close to toothsome. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $60.

Imported by Möet-Hennessy USA, New York. A sample for review.

No, Disappointing Herons is not the name of my next band, it’s an expression of my dismay at the quality of some of a recently tasted group of products from Heron Wines, a company founded by Laely Heron (image at right) in 1995. Her idea was straightforward: own no vineyards but buy grapes from reliable, preferably sustainable sources, make wines with as little manipulation as possible and sell them at a reasonable price, in other words, to fill the role of a responsible negociant.

My first encounter with a wine from Heron was in the form of the Heron Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, which I received as a sample and subsequently reviewed in a post on January 24, 2009, otherwise known as The Dim Past. Here’s what I wrote:

If you can find the Heron Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, California, anywhere, buy it by the case. Sporting a mild but effective 13 percent alcohol, this irresistible cabernet is a lovely medium purple-magenta color. Aromas of smoke, minerals and earth, cedar, tobacco and black pepper wreathe notes of ripe and slightly roasted black currants and black cherries. The wine is dense and chewy in the mouth, with grainy tannins that permeate succulent and very spicy black currant and black cherry flavors. Aged a judicious eight months in French oak, the wine delivers a firm yet yielding structure that opens to reveal a hint of underbrush and dried porcini on the finish. There’s a lot of heart here for the price. Very Good+ and a phenomenal bargain at about $14.

Now that sounds like a wine you could get behind and feel happy about every time you opened a bottle. Unfortunately, the Heron Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendocino, not only has no heart but it lacks soul, conveying the impression of a “red wine” at its most generic common denominator. My notes conclude, “What a shame!”

I tasted five current releases of Heron products courtesy of a local wholesaler now carrying the wines in our market. Two I can recommend, and three, including the Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, I cannot. The other two not recommended are the Merlot 2010, Mendocino County, again a matter of a wine tasting more generic and blah than varietal (though with merlot sometimes I wonder what varietal means) and the Chardonnay 2011, California (a blend of grapes from Russian River Valley, Carneros and Santa Maria Valley, one-third each) that channels the inner sauvignon blanc to which all chardonnays must surely aspire.

Here, though, are the Heron wines that I recommend:
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The all stainless steel Heron Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Mendocino County — that is to say, 75 percent Mendocino and 25 percent Yountville, in Napa valley — displays a bright medium straw color and enticing aromas of lime peel, roasted lemon, grapefruit, thyme and tarragon, with back-notes of smoke and a burgeoning, penetrating tide of limestone and flint minerality. That mineral character permeates spicy and savory flavors of citrus and stone-fruit highlighted by keen acidity and a lean and taut structure that nevertheless admits of a winsome, almost talc-like texture; the contrast is delightful. 13 percent alcohol. Loads of personality; restaurants and bars could sell the hell out of this wine in by-the-glass programs. Drink now through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $14, a Terrific Value.
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The Heron Pinot Noir 2011, California, derived from Monterey (75 percent), Paso Robles (20 percent) and Russian River Valley (5 percent) and aged a careful nine months in French oak, a combination of new, one-year-old and two-year-old barrels. The color is an entrancing cerise with a touch of magenta; this is clean and fresh pinot noir that offers an engaging Beaujolais-Villages-like aspect of ripe black and red cherries, hints of raspberry and mulberry and a touch of rose petals and violets, with undercurrents of slightly funky earthiness and graphite. There’s enough tannin to give the wine a slight dusty edge, and sufficient acidity to lend vibrancy and liveliness. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2014. Again, this would be a very attractive restaurant and bar wine to sell by the glass; pair it with a roasted chicken or mushroom omelet. Very Good+. About $14, representing Real Value.
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Our Weekend Wine Sips are an eclectic selection, with a variety of reds and then only chardonnay for the whites, though two of those are excellent examples from the Dundee Hills appellation of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The California wines spread their wings for a range from Mendocino in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. No duds or even much of a quibble in this group; if you’re looking for a bargain, notice the Toad Hollow Merlot 2009 down toward the end. The only technical information included in these brief reviews is the combination of grapes in a blend, if such is the case; otherwise these wines are 100 percent varietal (properly used as an adjective). For historical or geographical data and notes about personalities and personnel, look elsewhere: the intent here is immediacy. The two chardonnays from Oregon were tasted at a trade event; the rest of the wines were samples for review. Several of the label images are behind vintage for the wines under review. I don’t know why businesses — and a winery is a business — don’t keep their websites up to date.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zindandel. Dark ruby-magenta with a hint of violet at the rim; black currants, cherries and raspberries, touch of black plum; full-bodied, mouth-filling, vibrant; cloves and allspice, hint of lavender and licorice; chewy tannins yet surprising refined for a petite sirah; one misses the fabled gumption and rusticity; still, very enjoyable in the new fashion. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $25.
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Charles Krug Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 80% merlot, 6% malbec, 5% petit verdot, 3% each cabernet sauvignon and syrah, 2% zinfandel, 1% cabernet franc; and why not a little charbono and alicante bouschet, fer cryin’ out loud! Dark ruby color; a cool customer, sleek with mint and graphite, intense and pent black currants and cherries with a hint of blueberry; smooth, suave, a little tailored, but stacked structure, layered texture, finely-wrought acidity; unfurls dense, dusty tannins and a leathery, foresty quality; finish is rather austere. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $24.
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Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2011, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.1% alc. Just lovely, I mean lovely tone and texture, appealing weight and elegance, beautiful balance and integration; what are you waiting for? O.K., scents and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit with hints of apple and cloves; smooth, supple, silky yet with the acidity and flint-like minerality to provide pointed liveliness and energy; ripe and rich yet imbued with innate delicacy. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
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Domaine Serene Clos du Soleil Chardonnay 2010, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.6% alc. You know how it is; some wines you sniff and sip and think, “All right, this is it.” Wonderful presence and allure, but married to an almost rigorous sense of structure and texture; rich, ripe, almost golden in effect, with notes of pineapple and peach, touches of caramelized grapefruit and candied lime peel, apple and jasmine; powerful limestone-chalk Chablis-like minerality and bright acidity animate the entire package, with supple, subtly spicy oak playing counterpoint; long layered finish. Drink through 2018 to ’2020. Excellent. About $65.
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Donum Estate Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. 14.1% alc. 140 cases. Bright straw-gold color; intense and concentrated, almost tannic in its deep savory character and dense chewy texture; very dry but with brave amplitude of structure and a generous wash of roasted lemon, lemon balm and grapefruit bolstered by a prominent limestone element; hints of honeysuckle, quince and ginger; a long gorgeous finish. A powerhouse of a chardonnay without being over-orchestrated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $50.
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Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. 15% alc. 86% zinfandel, 6% petite sirah, 4% each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Moderate ruby color with a mulberry rim; black currants, cherries and plums, hints of blueberries and blackberries; background of smoke, cloves and fruitcake and a touch of bacon; very dense and chewy and lip-smacking acidity, but surprisingly smooth and mellow; juicy black and blue fruit flavors; picks up tannic authority and austerity from mid-palate through the finish; manages to avoid any taint of high alcohol glibness and sweetness. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $36.75.
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Pali Wine Co. Huntington Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Barbara County. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; ripe and spicy and satiny smooth; black and red currants with hints of cherries and plums; cloves, a touch of sassafras, back-note of fruitcake; lovely purity and intensity of pinot flavors unfolding to spare elements of leather and graphite and a foundation of briers and brambles. Super-attractive with the grit to be serious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.50, representing Good Value.
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Pfendler Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Medium straw-gold color; bold and rich but not creamy or tropical; well-integrated flavors of pineapple and grapefruit infused with ginger and quince and a hint of peach; very dry but really lovely, elevating and balletic; oak comes through from mid-palate back, yet the whole package reflects a hands-off approach; final touch of jasmine and roasted hazelnuts. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
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Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. At four years old, clean, fresh, powerful, deeply spicy; rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and cloves; touch of candied lime peel; huge minerally-limestone element, bristling acidity, dense and almost savory, yet nothing over-played, almost light on its feet. One of the best chardonnays I’ve tasted from this winery. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Silverado Mt. George Vineyard Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 91% merlot, 7% cabernet sauvignon, 1% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Dark ruby, almost opaque; classic notes of black currants and plums, hints of bay leaf and cedar, thyme and black olives; firm, solid structure built on spicy oak and graphite-like mineral qualities with clean acidity running underneath; intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors etched with lavender and bitter chocolate with touches of baking spice and new leather. Good character for the price. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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Toad Hollow Richard McDowell Vineyard Merlot 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; black currants, red cherries, touch of cranberry; very spicy, with robust tannins, leather, briers and brambles with oak in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of plums and fruitcake; fairly rustic and shaggy but tasty and attractive. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $13, a Raving Bargain.
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Trefethen Harmony Chardonnay 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Bright straw-gold color; another big, bold, rich and ripe chardonnay, slightly buttery and roasted pineapple and grapefruit over cloves and ginger; lots of oak, ’tis true, but fits the size and dimension of the wine; keen acidity keeps this chardonnay on keel and scintillating limestone minerality lends crystalline ballast. A beauty for drinking through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Let’s spring forward with a delightful Toad Hollow “Eye of the Toad” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. This is not a saignée rosé, in which some juice is bled off from the tank before fermentation to concentrate the resulting wine (i.e., less juice to the same amount of skins). This is, instead, made from pinot noir grapes gently pressed and then pulled from the skins after a short maceration that yields a fine-hued rosé color, a sort of melon pink infused with light copper with a hint of violet at the rim. This is a charming and delicate rosé that displays ineffable aromas of pomegranate and strawberry with hints of melon and peach skin; flavors of spiced peach, red currants and limestone; and a slight dried herb element, all supported by lip-smacking acidity for crisp liveliness. 11.5 percent alcohol and appropriate with all sorts of light Spring fare. Very Good+. About $13, marking Great Value.

A sample for review.

The winery was founded in 1993 by Todd Williams (1938-2007), retired from an illustrious career in bars and restaurants, and Rodney Strong (1927-2006), the former Broadway dancer and Sonoma County vineyard pioneer who had long had no hand in the winery that still bears his name. Artist of the whimsical Toad Hollow labels is Maureen Erickson.

A few weeks ago, Gilt.com had a sale on groups of three wines each from Sean Thackrey, 10 percent off the price of the wines and minimal shipping cost. We love the wines but have not seen them in years; Thackrey, who can legitimately be called legendary if not mythic in California, produces small quantities of highly individual and allocated wines, about 4,000 cases altogether, from vineyards in Napa Valley, Mendocino and Marin County. I debated for a few days and finally took the plunge. I ordered three bottles of Pleiades Old Vines XXII, the most recent non-vintage blend of red grapes from various sources that Thackrey has produced since 1992, and the Cassiopeia Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley; the Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite sirah 2010, Mendicino County; and the Andromeda Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pinot Noir 2006, Marin County. This weekend, I opened the first bottle of Pleiades Old Vines XXII to drink on Pizza and Movie Night.

Bottled in June 2012, Pleiades Old Vines XXII, California Red Table Wine, is a blend of sangiovese, viognier, pinot noir, syrah and mourvèdre “to name but a few” as the label says, leading of course to rank speculation: petit verdot? tempranillo? alicante bouschet? The color is vivid ruby-red with a tinge of magenta at the rim; aromas of raspberries and black and red currants are nestled in elements of briers and brambles, rose hips and violets, a hint of cloves. Speaking of raspberries, the wine is pleasantly raspy and earthy, and while at first one thinks, “O.K., this is nice, drinkable, tasty,” as the minutes pass the wine gains power, dimension and edge; the tannins gather force, expressing themselves in a slightly gritty squinchy fashion, while bright, nervy acidity flings an authoritative arrow through the whole array, keeping it fresh and lively. Blue fruit joins the panoply amid a broader range of dried spices, flowers and graphite, though the emphasis remains on a peculiar intensity of blackness involving black currants, raspberries and plums — but always that wild touch of red. An imminently sane 13.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’18. One of California’s great loopy, blended wines. Excellent. About $24.


Here’s a reasonably priced and dare we say delightful pinot noir that would not be out of place with a roasted chicken or veal chop this week. The Steelhead Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma County, offers an attractive medium ruby-magenta color and aromas of strawberries and red cherries with hints of briers and brambles and that spicy-fruity lift and touch of earthiness that characterize the best qualities of Beaujolais, to which add, in scent and flavor, a slight raspiness of wild raspberries and rose hips. The wine is quite dry yet juicy with ripe black and red cherry fruit given some dimension and spice from 10 months in oak barrels. Vibrant acidity lends appealing liveliness, while a touch of graphite-like minerality from mid-palate back gives the wine a steady sense of structure. Charming and tasty, and the sort of wine you could happily quaff with a variety of food. 13.8 percent alcohol. Winemaker is Hugh Chappelle. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
Notice that the vintage on the label is two years behind. Hey, Steelhead, how about updating that website?
A sample for review.

Yes, I’m getting this post just in under the wire to qualify still for the Weekend Wine Sips. We look at a dozen pinot noir wines from California today (um, tonight), and they run a range of styles, from deep and almost burly to (my preference) airy, delicate and elegant. A few of these have issues with oak, and I wish you all would just stop it, warnings and pleas I have made with some of these wineries previously, n’est-ce pas? No real technical information; these are all 100 percent pinot noir (unless someone is cheating and not telling), and of course I mention the alcohol content and, if I know it, the number of cases if the production is small. These were all samples for review. The Inman Family trio, from 2007, may seem like an anomaly, since the current releases are 2009, but that delivery was the result of some confusion with the winery and the local distributor. Or something like that. I didn’t care; they’re wonderful.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 14.5% alc. 589 cases. Medium ruby color with an intense mulberry core and slightly lighter at the rim; a dense and concentrated pinot noir, with cloves, cola and sandalwood and spiced and macerated black and red cherries; vibrant acidity for alluring liveliness, but a pinot of serious weight and heft, every element feels super-sized yet somehow balanced; dryish slightly powdery tannins, with burnished oak coming out on the finish. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $72.
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Donum Estate West Slope Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 14.3% alc. 294 cases. Dark to medium ruby color, almost opaque at the center; a big, spicy, resonant pinot noir; you really feel the earthy-foresty-briery character around the circuit of your palate; not shy about oak but fills in the spaces with toasted sweet spices, rose petals and violets, a touch of lilac; black and red fruit a little fleshy and meaty, exotic hint of caramelized rhubarb and fennel; very dry but complex, layered, a Chinese box of a wine. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $90.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 483 cases. Here’s where it gets tricky. Rich, warm medium ruby color shading through magenta to cherry; fruity, floral, spicy, feels elemental, but quite dry with oak and tannin rearing themselves obtrusively after a few minutes; will this wine survive its own austere structure? Very Good, and hope for the best in three to five years. About $72.
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Donum Estate Russian River Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 176 cases. The darkest, most intensely colored of these four pinot noirs; deep, warm, rich, ripe and spicy; black currants, black cherries and plums; the whole box of dried sweet and baking spices; lip-smacking acidity, thwacking dusty and fairly challenging tannins and polished oak, but it still practically caresses the palate with its dense satiny drape. Try from 2014 or ’15 to 2018 to ’20. Very Good+ with perhaps Excellent potential. About $90.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Radiant ruby-magenta color; smoke with an edge of ash, forest floor; black and red currants and cherries, leather, mushrooms, forest floor, briers and brambles; all elements subdued to the principle of balance yet quite dry and you feel the wood just a bit and the slightly austere tannins; this model more reticent than the 2009 version that I reviewed back in November and which I selected as one of my “50 Great Wines of 2012.” Very Good+ with possible Excellent potential in one or two years. About $42.
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Inman Family Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley. 13.8% alc. (From the Thorn Ridge Ranch and Olivet Grange Vineyard) Medium ruby color, almost transparent; delicate, elegant, finely knit; black cherries, plums and cranberries, hints of sassafras and rhubarb; very satiny texture, utterly seamless, with inner richness and succulence discreetly subdued to bright acidity and a slightly underbrushy-foresty structure. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $30.
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Inman Family Thorn Ridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Slightly darker ruby-mulberry color; black and red currants and cherries, briers and brambles with a subtle graphite edge, deep deep spice with a touch of fruitcake; wonderful purity, intensity and resonance yet perfectly tranquil and confident; cloves, cinnamon and sandalwood; you feel the polished slightly sanded oak and a modicum of slightly dusty tannins from mid-palate through the finish. Beautiful. Drink through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $56.
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Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley. (Olivet Grange Vineyard) 13.5% alc. Limpid ruby-magenta color with a touch of brick-red at the rim; ripe, fleshy and spicy; broad and expansive; macerated red and black currants and plums permeated by cranberry and mulberry; drier than the preceding examples, more tannic power and grip with elements of leather, earthy graphite, briers and brambles; long, spicy satiny finish, elevating and, ultimately, ethereal. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $56.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Enchanting, vibrant ruby-mulberry color; rhubarb, cloves and cola, spiced and macerated red and black cherries; deep, rich, spicy yet nothing strenuous or obvious; super-satiny texture, almost luscious black fruit flavors but not opulent, in fact fairly dense tannins; hints of sandalwood, violets and rose petals with undertones of mushrooms, moss and brambles; a lovely pinot noir with enough heft and edge to lend an air of seriousness. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros, Sonoma County. 14.6% alc. 115 cases. Arresting mulberry-ruby color, trace of violet at the rim; a seductive combination of ethereal, alluring and earthy; marvelous purity and concentration cloaked in a deeply spicy character and with an almost poignant flinty mineral element; black and red currants and cherries with an elusive hint of dried sage and bay leaf and undertones of rose petals, cloves and sassafras; intensely briery and brambly, as the finish unpacks elements of minerals and forest floor. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $75.
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Pali Wine Co. “Summit” Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Rita Hills. 14.6% alc. 1,020 cases. Riveting dark ruby-mulberry color; a deep, dense, spicy and muscular fashion of pinot noir; black cherries and currants, with a flush of blue plum, cloves and fruitcake; a little exotic, fleshy, peppery, yet beguiling with notes of roses and lilac; supple and satiny, yes, but also lithe, almost taut and definitely the chewiest of these 12 pinot noirs; still, it concludes in a more elevating, balletic manner than one would think possible. Now through 2016 or ’18. Excellent. About $29.
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Waterstone Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. 14.5% alc. 1,241 cases. Lovely in every element and aspect; beguiling almost luminescent ruby-magenta color; red and black cherries, hint of cranberry; cloves, sandalwood, cola; beautiful balance and integration; vibrant acidity yet very smooth, serene; tannins and minerals qualities feel poised, almost alert; finish packed with spice, with hints of graphite, briers and brambles. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $22, representing Great Value.
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Most writers describe the Yamhill-Carlton District, an American Viticultural Area in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, as horseshoe-shaped, but as you can see from the accompanying map, it doesn’t look anything like a horseshoe; more like a deconstructed triumphal arch. The region, which occupies parts of Yamhill and Carlton counties, was approved in 2004, but only for elevations between 200 and 1,000 feet. Vineyard plantings in the district measure about 1,200 acres. The five wines under consideration today are all single-vineyards bottlings from Yamhill-Carlton, tasted at an afternoon event — a hot afternoon — at Elk Cove Winery in conjunction with the 2012 Wine Bloggers’ Conference held in Portland last August. The question, of course, is whether the five pinot noirs, all from 2010, display identifiable regional characteristics. If the experience had been based only on the first three wines, I would have said that the soil, elevation and microclimate of Yamhill-Carlton encourage bright fruit of brilliant purity and intensity, lean yet supple structures and fairly profound yet balanced earthy qualities. That assessment was thrown off, however, by the last two wines, which were tannic and austere. I make no conclusions, therefore, but encourage a search for the Belle Pente, Penner-Ash and Elk Cove pinot noirs in particular.
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Belle Pente Winery Belle Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010. Jill and Brian O’Donnell established Belle Pente in 1994 and produced their first wines in 1996. Estate vineyards amount to 16 acres, farmed on organic and biodynamic principles. Production in 2010 was 3,600 cases. The Belle Pente “Belle Pente” Pinot Noir 2010 offers a medium ruby-cranberry color; it’s a wine of tremendous purity and intensity, with spiced and macerated black and red currants and plums that feel slightly stewed and undertones of briers and brambles, roots and branches for a distinctly earthy, loamy, foresty character; nonetheless, what dominates, as it were, are the utter transparency of beautiful fruit and clean acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. 785 cases. Information about oak aging and alcohol content is not available. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $35.
Image, much cropped, from vindulgeblog.com.
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Penner-Ash Wine Cellars Dussin Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010. The winery was launched in 1998 by Lynn and Ron Penner-Ash; winemaker is Lynn Penner-Ash. Fifteen acres are planted to vines, now Oregon Certified Sustainable. Production in 2010 was 8,000 cases. This wine aged 10 months in a carefully calibrated regimen of French oak: 38 percent new barrels; 29 percent one-year-old; 29 percent two-year-old; four percent neutral. The color is a rich garnet-mulberry; the bouquet draws you in with seductive aromas of smoke, cedar and tobacco, sage and bay leaf, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants with a hint of plum. It’s a pinot noir that balances substantial presence in body and tone with an elevating and almost ethereal cast of red and black fruit flavors, enmeshed in a hint of lightly spiced oak. A seamless marriage of power and elegance. 575 cases. Alcohol level is 13.5 percent. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. about $60.
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Elk Cove Vineyards Mt Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010. Elk Cove, founded in 1974 by Joe and Pat Campbell, was a pioneer in Yamhill-Carlton long before the notion of that AVA was a gleam in anyone’s eye. Producing acres on the estate amount to 232. Winemaker is Adam Godlee-Campbell. Production in 2010 was 35,000 cases. The Elk Cove Mt Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 displays a slightly darker ruby-cherry color than the previous two pinot noirs; again, lovely purity and intensity, impeccable balance and integrity; ripe, sweet red and black cherry scents and flavors tinged with smoke and a hint of oak and dried spice in the cloves and sassafras range; undercurrents of briers and brambles lend an earthy foundation, along with tongue-swabbing acidity for liveliness and allure. The oak expands from mid-palate back through the finish, along with a touch of dusty tannins for a bit of austerity. 696 cases. Alcohol content N/A. Drink through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $48.
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Soléna Estate Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir 2010. The estate is named for the daughter of Danielle Andrus Montalieu and Laurent Montalieu who acquired their first 80 acres in 2000, forming the basis of a certified biodynamic vineyard, Domaine Danielle Laurent. Case production in 2011 was 9,000. Laurent Montelieu is winemaker. This wine aged 13 months in French oak, 37 percent new barrels. The color tends toward ruby-garnet, while the totality of the wine tends toward an expression of oak-mineral-and-tannin structure with acidity playing an essential supporting role; you can almost smell the structure in the wine’s slightly woody-minerally aspects, and you certainly feel the structure on the palate. Perhaps the austere nature of the Soléna Estate Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir 2010 indicates its motivation as an age-worthy pinot noir; perhaps it will allow its fruit to unfurl in a year or two. Try from 2014 through 2018 to 2020. 13.6 percent alcohol. 480 cases. Very Good+ with a nod toward Excellent potential. About $50.
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WillaKenzie Estate Pierre Léon Pinot Noir 2010. Bernard and Ronni Lacroute founded WillaKenzie Estate in 1992, with the first wines made from the 1995 vintage. Winemaker is Thibaud Mandet. Production in 2011 was 21,000 cases. The winery holds Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine status. I have tasted pinot noirs from WillaKenzie before, but the WillaKenzie Estate Pierre Léon Pinot Noir 2010, which aged 14 months in 50 percent new French oak, is the most tannic and austere example that I have encountered; it’s quite dry and austere and exhibits a full complement of the dusty-brushy-foresty graphite components that indicate a wine intended for the long haul. Is this the best method of treating the pinot noir grape? Not in my book, but they didn’t ask me, did they? I would give this wine from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 or ’22 to flesh out and allow other elements their legitimate expression. 13.5 percent alcohol. Number of cases N/A. Very Good+ with a Big If. About $42.
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Here’s a frankly beautiful rosé from Oregon to get you through until the rosés from 2012 start appearing, though rosés from the Southern Hemisphere have been showing up at my door for a couple of months. The Soter North Valley Rosé 2011, Willamette Valley, is a blend of 80 percent pinot noir, 16 percent chardonnay and 4 percent gewurztraminer, sourced from Yamhill-Carlton, Eola-Amity Hills and Dundee. Tony Soter founded the well-known Etude Wines in Napa Valley in 1982 and also consulted for a number of high-profile wineries, including a stint as winemaker for Spottswoode. Soter sold Etude to Beringer Blass in 2001; it’s now owned by Treasury Wine Estates. He and his wife Michelle are from Oregon, and Soter is something of a pinot noir specialist, so the return to Willamette seemed natural. The Soter North Valley Rosé 2011 offers a limpid pale pink hue and lovely notes of watermelon, red currants and mint, with hints of lavender and jasmine and an undertone of limestone minerality. It’s fresh, clean and thirst-quenching in its weaving of delicate currant, melon and peach flavors highlighted by nuances of cloves, dried rosemary and flint. 13.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,450 cases. Winemaker is James Cahill. Drink through April or May 2013. Excellent. About $22.

Tasted at a trade event.

I encountered this splendid group of Willamette Valley pinot noir wines at a trade tasting in Memphis last week, these examples I tried merely a fraction of the tremendous line-up available. Just within this group, you will notice that the focus primarily is not on deeply extracted colors, flavors or tannins but on classic delicacy, nuance and subtlety, all, of course, displayed with varying degrees of interest and emphasis. I was particularly happy to taste three pinots from Rex Hill, whose wines I have not tried in many years. Notice, also, how many of these wines exhibit refreshing alcohol levels under 14 percent. As usual with the Weekend Wine Sips, I don’t provide extensive information about history, geography, geology, personality or winemaking techniques; just quick reviews designed to pique your attention and whet your palates. Enjoy!.
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Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; utterly beguiling bouquet of red currants and blueberries, hints of cola, cloves and rhubarb, background of graphite, briers and brambles; satiny flow and drape on the palate, builds a sense of layering fruit, acidity and tannins with elegance, balance and integration; wholly seamless spice-and-mineral packed finish. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $40.
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Argyle Spirithouse Pinot Noir 2009, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley. 14% alc. Slightly darker medium ruby color, with a mulberry cast; fleshed out dimension and detail, red currants, black cherries and a touch of plum, cloves, sassafras, earthy and loamy; more power here, more resonance from velvety tannins, brisk acidity and polished oak that contributes seductive notes of sandalwood and allspice but also a touch of austerity to the finish. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $75.
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Cloudline Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley. 13.5% alc. The second label of Domaine Drouhin. Light ruby-mulberry color; earthy, slightly mushroomy bouquet, ripe, spicy macerated red currants and cherries, touch of cranberry; lots of graphite and loam, brier and brambles, pert acidity that cuts a swath on the palate; quite dry; has the fleet tone and litheness of a Savigny-les-Beaune. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $20, representing Good Value.
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Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 14.1% alc. That lovely ineffable pale ruby-magenta color that pinot noirs ought to have; very pure, very intense; black and red cherries, touches of red currants and cranberries; paradoxically lean and muscular with a seductive satiny texture; deep elements of loam, briers and forest-floor; spicy character is very subtle, black and red fruit flavors feel just a bit spiced and macerated; long finish freighted with minerals and earthy elements. Great winemaking. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley. 14.3% alc. Winsome moderate ruby-mulberry color; knock-out nose of cloves and sassafras, rose petals and violets, slightly roasted and fleshy black and red cherries and currants, back-note of earth and graphite; gratifying balance of power and elegance but with a healthy bit of rusticity that lends texture and contrast; spicy, dark and delicious. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $45.
Image, much cropped, from sipswirlsavor.com.
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Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley. 14.1% alc. One of the most striking and beautiful pinot noirs I have tasted; “serene” indeed in every aspect yet with a seething depth of exotic dried spice, dried flowers and potpourri, essential acidity for liveliness and allure, and the resonance of exquisitely poised tannins and graphite/loamy mineral elements; you could swim in the entrancing and stunningly perfumed aromas; super-satiny texture but lapped with both delicacy and assurance; a pinot noir of immense presence, tone and confidence yet fundamentally a creature of fastidious refinement. Now through 2016 to 2020. Exceptional. About $65.
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Francis Tannahill Hermit Pinot Noir 2009, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley. 13.9% alc. Slightly more extracted than some of these other models, the color here is moderate ruby-magenta with a darker and quite radiant center; just gorgeous, a real flower-spice-and-fruit-filled sensuous lob across home-plate, but you feel the oak from mid-palate back with a hint of austerity and a subtle bolstering of the structure; give it a year or two to meld a little better and then drink through 2017 to ’19. Production was 236 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Le Cadeau Red Label Pinot Noir 2010, Oregon. 14.5% alc. The winery’s entry level pinot is clean fresh and bright, a winsome amalgam of red currants and cranberries, with a hint of cherry and rhubarb, touches of cloves, leather, briers and brambles, a seductive satiny texture, and then a dry finish that reveals the sanded and burnished influence of oak, all played for sweet balance and integration. 150 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $38.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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Le Cadeau Diversité Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium ruby color; a sizable pinot noir, not plush or opulent but multi-dimensioned and richly detailed; it’s quite dense, quite dusty, and bears a minerally graphite and earthy core straight through the middle, all wrapped in dried baking spices, violets and potpourri and ripe and slightly macerated red currants and cherries touched by notes of blueberry and cranberry; briery and brambly, a bit of forest floor with the innate dried leaf and moss elements, and finally the oak comes through, building momentum. Try from 2014 through 2018 to 2020. Production was 320 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Le Cadeau Equinoxe 2008, Willamette Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium ruby color shading to mulberry at the rim; at four years old and a bit more brilliantly fresh, spicy and appealing, with a surface of clean, ripe black and red cherry scents and flavors tinged with a fleshy character and depths of cloves and sandalwood, rose petals and graphite; grows more dense, opens to dusty mineral-flecked tannins and polished oak that drives the finish to a dry and powerful surge. Now through 2018 to 2020. Production was 196 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Rex Hill Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. Made from sustainably-grown grapes from every AVA in Willamette Valley. Moderate ruby color with a flush of magenta and purple; ravishing bouquet of smoke, wheatmeal, tobacco, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants, hints of cloves and sandalwood; lovely ripe black and red fruit flavors, balletic on the one hand, earthy on the other hand, quite dry though, a little austere, high-toned, long in the reach and grasp of the finish. Great winemaking. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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Rex Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color with a permeating tinge of mulberry-purple; beautiful, bright, generous and expansive initially but shifting to magisterial, fairly dramatic and demanding; beguiling red currant and cherry flavors (just a hint of cranberry and rhubarb), deep, drenched with spice but still you feel the oak and tannin in a spreading tide; quite dry, briers and underbrush, a touch of dusty graphite, all packed into the long finish. 2014 through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $48.
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Rex Hill Jacob-Hunt Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13.5% alc. Again that ineffable transparent medium ruby-mulberry color that belies the power and substantial character of this single-vineyard pinot noir; deep, rich, fleshy and meaty, almost abjures any spicy qualities for remarkable purity and intensity of pinot noir expression sustained by acidity that cuts a swath on the palate and a burgeoning sense of oak and tannin; in fact, of this group of Willamette Valley pinot noir, this Rex Hill Jacob-Hunt ’10 is the most focused on structure. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $58.
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Planet Oregon Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley. A label for sustainable, reasonably priced pinot noir from the Soter winery. Beguiling light to medium ruby color; a delicate and subtle pinot noir, finely knit from red and black currant and cherry scents and flavors gently sifted with cola, cloves and rhubarb and slightly roughened, as if sanded by nuances of mild foresty and earthy elements. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20, representing Good Value.
The label image is two vintages behind.
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Soter North Valley Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13.6% alc. Hate to flog the word “lovely,” but most of these wines qualify on several counts or all counts, so here we go: Just freakin’ lovely pinot noir; woven from many strands of delicate shading into an entity of tensile strength; red fruit through and through — currants, cherries and plums — exquisitely molded with hints of cranberry, cloves and sandalwood; seamless tone and structure, balance and poise, finespun, insinuating yet firm; you could drink this forever, if such an opportunity arose, but to be realistic, through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30, Great Value for the Price and Quality.
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Soter Mineral Springs Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. 13.8% alc. Medium ruby color; very finely melded and knit in all elements but displaying power and resonance in sustaining structure and moderately dusty, earthy tannins; brightly etched red and blue fruit, that is, red currants and cherries with a hint of blueberries and plums; also brightly etched is the keen acidity that makes this pinot noir attractive and mouthwatering; still, you feel the slightly woody spice and touch of graphite from mid-palate back through the dry, slightly austere finish. Say, 2014 through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $50.
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